Bill would change “use it or lose it” provision of Utah water rights

Feb 9, 2022, 4:26 PM
great salt lake water rights...
FILE -- The waters of the Great Salt Lake barely reach the marina on Antelope Island on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)
(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers could approve a bill that would no longer punish farmers if they don’t use all the water allocated to them

Utah water rights explained

Water rights are granted under state law, through a policy known as “beneficial use.”

Current Utah water law requires anyone who holds water rights to use up their allocation. If they don’t, that water allotted to them could go to someone else.

H.B. 33 would change the law so farmers could leave some of their water in streams without losing their allotted amount. It would also change the definition of “beneficial use” to include leaving the water flowing in streams, either to benefit fish and other wildlife or to help maintain the level of the Great Salt Lake.

Why the proposed change? 

Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, is the Senate sponsor of the bill and a farmer.

“This just would allow the beneficial use category to be expanded to include in-stream flow,” Sandall told KSL NewsRadio. 

He says the change would remove an obstacle to water conservation that water rights holders currently face.

“It may be that on some years, they can conserve, and they put that water in the stream. Maybe they do that for multiple years, but according to water law, if they did that for seven years, they could lose that right,” Sandall said.

The bill is supported by conservation groups including Friends of Great Salt Lake.

H.B. 33 has already passed the House of Representatives. Sandall says it will be on the agenda for the Senate Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee next week.

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Bill would change “use it or lose it” provision of Utah water rights